Just more than a week away from the start of the college basketball season, USA TODAY Sports examines some of the most intriguing story lines.
Today, five newly hired coaches with the most to prove.
Archie Miller, Indiana
Miller will be tasked with bringing Indiana back to national prominence after the program flirted with doing so over the course of Tom Crean’s tenure. Miller’s defensive-minded approach that brought Dayton to the Elite Eight in 2014 will help with a transitioning season. Making the Hoosiers a perennial contender, however, won’t come overnight. And though Miller is more Bob Knight than Crean, much of his success will hinge on the ability to recruit the state and lure top-notch talent to a prestigious hoops school with some of the best tradition in the sport.
At any other program, a first season without an NCAA tournament might be acceptable, but don’t expect Indiana fans to patiently “trust the process.” This is a hungry fan base, and Miller knew it when he signed on. An experienced backcourt led by Robert Johnson (the top returning scorer at 12.8 ppg) gives the Hoosiers some ammunition for 2017-18, but the roster’s talent will merit a top-eight Big Ten preseason projection at best. Last season, Indiana ranked last in the conference in turnover margin. At the very least, expect that to change this season under Miller, whose grittier style fits perfectly in the Big Ten.
Brad Underwood, Illinois
Perhaps the best coaching hire for the Fighting Illini since Bill Self, Underwood brings a mix of a favorable offense and well-respected recruiting expertise to Champaign, Ill. But what will Illinois look like in Year 1? If you go off his first — and only — season at Oklahoma State, the Illini should be looking at a trip to the Big Dance. The former Stephen F. Austin coach took the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament with a team picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 12. Considering Illinois will find itself in similar preseason territory, proving doubters wrong should be in the cards.
Two key newcomers — Wright State transfer Mark Alstork (19.0 ppg last season) and freshman Mark Smith (Illinois Mr. Basketball in high school last year) figure to make an impact right away, alongside a decent group of returnees. Like Miller, recruiting the state — namely the Chicagoland area — will be a priority in the long-term to help Illinois get back to the top of the Big Ten. And steering clear of the major pay-for-play scandal (Underwood’s former recruiting coordinator Lamont Evans was one of the assistant coaches indicted in the FBI’s investigation) will be a must for Underwood.
Chris Holtmann, Ohio State
Holtmann’s ascension to head coach of a Big Ten program from mid-major Gardner-Webb four years ago is remarkable, and it all started with the decision to join Butler’s staff in 2014-15 as an assistant, who then got the top job. The always-tactical Holtmann is an ideal fit for Ohio State, and his final season guiding Butler — which ended in a Sweet 16 finish last March — is indicative of how quickly he can get the most out of a team. So what are the prospects in Columbus? Not exactly bright considering Holtmann left more talent at Butler than he inherits with the Buckeyes. Jae’Sean Tate (14.3 ppg) is a proven scorer who Holtmann will have to rely on, but other contributors will need to mature.
Patrick Ewing, Georgetown
The school hero-turned-coach doesn’t always pan out. In the immediate future, the Hoyas’ fanbase undoubtedly is happy and optimistic after the John Thompson III era ended in disappointment. But what type of team will the school’s greatest player ever have? One lacking talent. This is a rebuilding season, no doubt, but still one for Ewing to prove himself as a head coach.
After spending 15 seasons in the NBA as an assistant, Ewing will have somewhat of a learning curve at the college ranks, mainly when it comes to recruiting. That's where Ewing will have to turn to his assistants. When Larry Brown took over SMU five years ago, he had then associate-head coach Tim Jankovich to help guide him. Look for a similar boost from assistants in Year 1.
Cuonzo Martin, Missouri
For a man who has beaten cancer, Martin brings a measure of strength in his personality that likely reverberates in any home on a recruiting visit. And now the first-year coach has the most prized freshman in Michael Porter Jr. alongside a star-studded group of youngsters.
But the reason Martin has something to prove is because all that one-and-done talent hasn’t translated to a Final Four or Sweet 16 like it has for other coaches. Martin wasn’t able to capitalize in 2015 when he had four five-star recruits on one team. Moving the Tigers from an on-paper top-25-caliber team to a blossomed, in-sync group of freshmen in March will be the goal for Martin.